United a year ago, justice Madan B Lokur and CJI Ranjan Gogoi split as SC collegium row takes centrestage

Justice (retired) Madan B Lokur, who last year stood alongside Ranjan Gogoi — now Chief Justice of India — at a press conference of senior judges against former CJI Dipak Misra, seemingly no longer sees eye to eye with his long-time associate. Lokur has been thought of as a close friend of Gogoi, their association going back to their graduation years when they were students at Delhi University’s Law Faculty, according to The Indian Express.

Speaking at a farewell function of justice Lokur in December, Gogoi referred to their five decades of association and said it was an “emotional moment” for him when his friend was retiring as an apex court judge, The Times of India reported. Now, just months later, Lokur said he is disappointed that the Supreme Court broke protocol by not publishing the resolution of the collegium in December that reportedly cleared the names of justices Pradeep Nandrajog and Rajendra Menon to the Supreme Court.

File image of Justice (retd) Madan Lokur. News18

File image of Justice (retd) Madan Lokur. News18

"It does disappoint me that the resolution passed on 12 December, 2018, wasn't put in public domain. But why it wasn't is not my business," Lokur said, speaking at an interaction in New Delhi on 'State of the Indian Judiciary' organised by legal news portal The Leaflet.

Lokur's comment, while subtle and inoffensive on the face, is an admission that all is still not well with the manner in which judges are being selected. The ongoing controversy also puts the onus on CJI-headed collegium to bring more transparency.

Lokur was one of the four senior judges (along with CJI Gogoi) of the apex court who staged a virtual revolt against the then CJI Misra by holding an unprecedented press conference on 12 January, 2018. Ironically, the point of dissent against the chief justice also included a matter of appointment and the lack of transparency within the judiciary.

Now, while Misra was accused of being arbitrary and autocratic in allotting cases to judges, on his part, he did uphold transparency in judiciary by coming up with the rule of making public all resolutions passed by the collegium. This time around, the onus lies on CJI Gogoi to bring more transparency to the system.

 

The collegium, while it still included Lokur, recommended the elevation of justices Nandrajog and Menon after its 12 December meeting. However, this resolution was not made public. After the retirement of Lokur on 30 December, this decision was reportedly reconsidered by the new collegium at its meeting on 10 January. The collegium ultimately decided to elevate justices Maheshwari and Khanna and bypass several senior judges.

The new collegium, which now includes Justice Arun Mishra, cited the discovery of some additional material as the reason behind the decision. However, justice Lokur said he was not aware of the additional material that emerged after his retirement which led the collegium to its decision against elevating the senior judges. He said he was not privy to the developments between 12 December and 10 January that may have influenced the collegium's decision.

"A meeting was held on 12 December, 2018. Certain decisions were taken. But what happened between 12 December and 10 January, I am not privy to, so I can't say," justice Lokur said. "What happens in the collegium is something done in confidence. I'm not going to betray anyone's trust by saying whether we discussed this or not, but certain decisions were taken. It's a matter of trust and confidence. We take certain decisions which have to be uploaded on the Supreme Court website."

Lokur, however, asserted that healthy discussions take place at collegium meetings and agreements and disagreements are part of it, even though he admit that system needed tweaking. "The system needs to improve. I don’t think the system has failed, We’re dealing with human beings, we’re not dealing with machines. Certain things in the system may need tweaking but it’s not a failure," Bar and Bench quoted him as saying.

He also advocated time-bound decisions on the recommendations of the collegium by the executive and said that in the event of no response from government it can be deemed to be accepted. He added that it was public knowledge that government on many instances has sat on the collegium's recommendations for months, perhaps in reference to to the case of Justice KM Joseph's elevation to the Supreme Court when the Centre sat on the files for months.

Skirting any direct questions about Gogoi, Lokur also opposed a suggestion that the additional material pertaining to the two judges be put in public domain by the CJI. The retired judge evaded questions as to whether Justice Gogoi, who was in the panel to select the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director, should have heard former CBI chief Alok Verma's petition as on Tuesday as he refused to hear a plea challenging the appointment of the agency's interim director M Nageswar Rao.

Lokur said although the CJI heard and decided Verma's petition against his divesting of powers, that did not mean he should also hear the case against the acting CBI director as he was part of the selection panel to choose the central probe agency's chief. "Are you suggesting that he (CJI) should have heard the case and taken a meeting tomorrow?" Lokur asked. Lokur also skirted questions on the CJI being a part of the bench hearing the politically sensitive Ayodhya land dispute case and the Rafale matter. Lokur requested all not to make a specific mention of any case being heard either by the CJI or any other judges.

Speaking on the 12 January, 2018, press conference by the four senior judges, Lokur said it was worth holding and that it "achieved something". The press conference brought some openness in the functioning of Supreme Court, Lokur added.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jan 25, 2019 10:13:52 IST

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